Before you tread any further, be warned that there are SPOILERS ahead. As in, enough to fill all of Lake Hylia.
So, one more time – SPOILER WARNING
Now with that out of the way, I’ve got something else to say in all caps.
Breath of the Wild looks INCREDIBLE.
Nintendo’s potential magnum opus was finally shown off in all of its grandeur this E3, and it has effectively suppressed any bitterness that fans have had over its near five-year wait with its pure beauty and size. The visuals, said by longtime Legend of Zelda director Eiji Aonuma to be inspired by Japanese animation, are gorgeous; they feel like an amalgamation of the cel shaded art directions used in such games like Wind Waker and Skyward Sword, and the more grounded approaches used in Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess. Anime fans will definitely see Studio Ghibli influence within it.
Yet, it wasn’t with eye candy that Breath of the Wild most enthralled fans, it was with its staggering scope. The in-game world is nothing short of enormous for an action/adventure title, by far the largest in the franchise and certainly in the upper echelon for home console software. This time, Hyrule is said to be 12 times as large as the in-game world for Twilight Princess, a Gamecube-era title that had a sizable overworld, in its own right.
What we’re looking at with Breath of the Wild is basically The Legend of Zelda meeting with The Elder Scrolls and Princess Mononoke.
The numerous live-gameplay demonstrations streamed from Nintendo’s sprawling E3 booth primarily took place in a locale known as the Great Plateau, which rests in the heart of Hyrule for Breath of the Wild. According to both in-game dialogue and creator commentary, the Great Plateau may actually be the creation site of Hyrule. There’s a fan theory floating around that it’s the remains of Skyloft, a portion of which landed on the surface world (later to become Hyrule) at the end of Skyward Sword. This theory is partially substantiated by the finding of a statue of the Goddess Hylia in the demo, and fans will remember that the statue played a pivotal role in Skyward Sword.
Of course, there are also notions that the Great Plateau is actually the site of Hyrule Castle and the Temple of Time from Ocarina of Time. A side-by-side comparison of screenshots makes a good argument.
We saw a lot more of Hyrule than just the Great Plateau, however. The new trailer and subsequent clips Nintendo released showed off a myriad of expansive environments that Link will be able to explore—snowy mountains, tropical coasts, large bodies of water, deserts, rocky cliffs and hills, forests small enough to be consider a meager copse and others big enough to get lost in.
One thing that didn’t show up were human settlements, or settlements of any race. Aonuma and Nintendo’s ace translator Bill Trinen confirmed, however, that towns will appear in the final version of the game. They were simply left out of the E3 demo to focus on the free-roaming nature of the game throughout its vast overworld.
As soon as fans heard that reassurance, they went right back to being enchanted by what was going on within the demos. Breath of the Wild seems poised to present gamers with one of the most rich and interactive wildernesses in the history of the industry. Between ores, plants, and other materials, there’s something to collect at every turn, at least, except Rupees or Hearts. Straying from the path that recent Zeldas have followed, you won’t be cutting down grass to collect Rupees and Hearts, anymore. Rather, you’ll get Rupees from trading the wealth of materials you can obtain, while health replenishment is largely connected to what you cook over the campfire.
Remember the old days of scouring the overworld in the original The Legend of Zelda just to scrounge up Rupees to buy more arrows? We’re apparently trending back in that direction. While there seems to be more than enough options to limit that tedium we saw in the past, this survival element goes a long way to making healing items actually valuable again. Not only do our concoctions heal the damage we’ve taken, they allow us to traverse cold environments for a period of time without freezing to death.
The simple fact that temperature is a significant factor in your every-day travels show how insanely detailed Breath of the Wild will be. During a gameplay session, one player discovered that the heat from the brush fire he started could lift Link into the air when he pulled freed his glider. That momentary boost off the ground allowed him to gain a perfect opportunity to attack an enemy from above.
That glider is but one of the numerous ways you can traverse the huge world. The beautiful official artwork released over the weekend of Link scaling a tall rock formation was a prelude to the new climbing mechanic we saw. Whether it was a tree, an ancient building, or a sheer vertical cliff, Link went full Spiderman at this E3. It appears to be that if you can take hold of the surface, you can climb it in Breath of the Wild. At least, as long as your stamina meter holds up.
While the stamina meter returns from Skyward Sword, snowboarding returns from Twilight Princess. What was once a mini-game down a single mountain has become a means of travel you can employ whenever your shield is at the ready. Here’s to hoping that the same can be done over sand in the game’s desert environments.
These new forms of movement all go back to Aonuma’s words that the development team wanted players to be able to approach areas and tasks from a variety of different directions. We’re no longer limited by flat, linear trails leading us into a new environment. You could never march straight from Ikana Valley to Great Bay in Majora’s Mask, or from Snowpeak Mountain to Faron Forest in Twilight Princess; you always had to go through the central overworld to hurry between different corners of the land. Back in the N64, Gamecube, and Wii days, the Zelda team simply didn’t have the tech to make an overworld as connected and as massive as what genre standouts like The Elder Scrolls and The Witcher have come to set as the standard.
It doesn’t seem like we’re going to be barred from entering new areas because of some magical barrier or because there’s an obstacle blocking our lone path, which can only be cleared by some random item hidden away in a dungeon. Contrived blockades are gone, and Breath of the Wild is bringing an organic sense of exploration the likes of which we’ve never seen in the series.
As we explore Hyrule, then, we’ll encounter all sorts of creatures who inhabit the land. Koroks, making their first appearance since the Wind Waker, are apparently denizens of this Hyrule. It’s already thrown Timeline Theorists for an absolute loop.
Twilight Princess gets its own representative in the form of Wolf Link, who can show up to battle enemies or forage supplies by tapping the Wolf Link Amiibo once every 24 real-world hours. It’s by far one of the coolest and most practical uses for Amiibo, yet, and it gives hope that the other Amiibo Nintendo has planned to released for Breath of the Wild will have inventive uses beyond what the super-popular figurines have traditionally showcased.
Another real first for the series is that a lot of the creatures aren’t there to fight. Many are simply wild animals care freely roaming about…until if the player decides to go hunting and make the aforementioned cooking recipes out of them. Wild horses can be tamed and used to ride across the rolling plains—yet another in the seemingly endless means of travel.
But of course, there are baddies in the overworld, too. This time, they’re not all just standing around aimlessly. In the demo, we came across several small encampments populated by Bokoblins, complete with ramshackle forts and campfires. Again, a call to organic design that feels so much more realistic than the way previous games were designed.
Some enemies do just stand around, such as the daunting and imposing Guardians. Fans who remember the game’s debut trailer all the way back from 2014 will know the Guardians as the spider-like golem that chased Link and harried him with explosive laser beams. These stoic, mysterious figures seem to be interspersed across the overworld, and if you catch their attention, they’ll waste no time in bringing the fight to you. Whether you actually duke it out with them is entirely up to you, but it seems ill-advised to fight these guys early on in the game when your abilities and equipment aren’t exactly up to snuff. One shot from the Guardians’ lasers in the demo yielded a whopping 8 hearts of damage on poor Link.
As if they weren’t imposing, enough, there seems to be a Godzilla-sized one scurrying upon Death Mountain in the distance.
It harkens to the older days of The Legend of Zelda, where you were free to enter areas with overwhelming foes even when you weren’t even remotely ready to take them on. The barrier here is the superior might of your enemies, not some random, magical wall.
Breath of the Wild takes this concept and runs a darn marathon with it. Apparently, you can fight the intended final boss at the very beginning of the game. As in, as soon as the opening cinematic concludes. There are already countless fans ready to try taking on the big baddie with Link clad in just in his underwear and wielding a wooden spear.
Just who is that big baddie, though? Well, that’s not entirely clear. Story elements were largely withheld from the demo as not to spoil the narrative for gamers, according to Aonuma. What we do know is that Breath of the Wild has a pretty fascinating premise. As Link, you wake up from a 100 year sleep to find yourself in a sparsely-populated, and somewhat ruined Hyrule. In the words of a mysterious old man you soon meet, Hyrule was long ago devastated by a terrible force known as Calamity Ganon. This evil entity was sealed within Hyrule Castle, and over the ages, nature slowly reclaimed the land. Calamity Ganon is close to breaking free, however, and it’s up to you to thwart its liberation.
One huge question from the story elements we actually did see this week regards the identity of a disembodied voice that uttered the now-famous words – “Wake up, Link!” Voice acting is finally making its debut in the series with Breath of the Wild, and our first spoken dialogue came from some female character who urged Link to awaken from his slumber. Who is this character, though? Princess Zelda? The Goddess Hylia? Din? Farore? Nayru? That’s a mystery we may not solve until the game’s release.
Going with the pervasive theme of nonlinearity, your adventure won’t be dictated by the narrative. Fans were told quite explicitly that you can beat the game without actually experiencing the whole story. You’ll learn as much about the history of this quasi-post apocalyptic Hyrule and its inhabitants as you discover for yourself. That includes the hallmark gameplay element of the series, the dungeons, which can apparently be completed in whatever order you wish.
And for those unaware, there are a lot of them. While it remains to be seen just how many traditional dungeons will exist, it’s confirmed that are more than 100+ Shrines across Hyrule—basically, mini dungeons that range from caverns filled with tricky traps and puzzles, to combative trials. It doesn’t seem like they’ll carry the famed convention of housing a prized item that we’ll use to overcome said puzzles. That workload is now in the hands of the Sheikah Slate Link acquires early on, and its litany of abilities, ranging from bomb creation, to magnetism, to even time control. Puzzles won’t necessarily be solved simply by shooting an arrow at a switch anymore, nor pathways unlocked by finding a key. Nope, much in the vein of the indie-masterpiece Trine, Link is going to have to play around with his physics-based powers for much of the puzzle solving, it seems.
It’s all a big departure from what Zelda fans have enjoyed for the last decade or two. Nearly every previous entry was a phenomenal game, but fresh concepts and methods are not simply appreciated in a 30-year-old franchise, they’re necessary. For The Legend of Zelda to evolve, it needs a game like what Nintendo showed us this E3.
Immense ambition can be scary. Remarkable change can take some getting used to. But if what we’ve seen from Breath of the Wild so far is any indication, any uncertainty is a tiny price to pay in the wake of a new adventure that harbors the spirit of the franchise Zelda fans have always loved, while offering the scope and majesty they’ve long deserved.
Jeff Pawlak is the Nintendo Expert on the Geekiverse, and he’s been exploring dungeons as Link and leaping across obstacles as Mario for the past 23 years. You can find him on Twitter @JeffreyPavs, where he’ll definitely share more thoughts in the near future on Breath of the Wild as he eagerly awaits its 2017 release.